LAHAINA, Hawaii – Every bucket – and there was an endless supply of them for Gonzaga in the second half – brought a louder roar than the one before.
Lahaina Civic Center holds just 2,400, but crowd eruptions echo off of every corner inside this tiny gym. The Zags brought all kinds of noise in the second half, capped by consecutive 3-pointers by Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr. that produced ear-splitting decibels.
Rui Hachimura chipped in, pirouetting at midcourt after Norvell’s shot settled into the net and screaming at the top of his lungs.
No. 3 Gonzaga was tested big-time by Illinois on Monday night, but that was nothing compared to the layers of adversity applied by Arizona – and a fair amount of self-inflicted wounds by the Zags – in the first half Tuesday night.
The Zags washed all of that away with a mesmerizing second half. The offense was wildly efficient and the defense did more than its share as GU blew past Arizona 91-74 in the Maui Invitational semifinals.
“Another wild night in Lahaina,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “I’ve had a lot of those. This one was definitely memorable.”
Few wouldn’t mind enjoying a wild afternoon Wednesday when the Zags (5-0) collide with No. 1 Duke, which defeated No. 8 Auburn 78-72, at 2 p.m. for the championship. Duke is 17-0 at the Lahaina Civic Center with five titles. GU claimed the 2009 championship.
Before playing their best basketball of the season, the Zags had to endure their roughest half. They were stung again by turnovers – 10 in the first half, including miscues on four straight possessions – after committing 22 in the victory over Illinois.
But that wasn’t their biggest issue. The game was tightly whistled, which left several Zags in foul trouble and started a free-throw parade for the Wildcats, who connected on 19 of 22.
Arizona didn’t have a field goal in the final 5:45 of the first half, but knocked down 10 straight free throws to lead by as much as 10 before settling for a 45-37 halftime lead.
Gonzaga entered the game having led for 152 minutes out of a possible 160. GU’s biggest deficit was three points against Texas Southern, a game they won by 37.
Few adjusted the defensive game plan at half with the Zags constantly switching, requiring forwards Hachimura and Brandon Clarke to defend Arizona’s quick guards at times.
“They started to switch on and off the ball,” Wildcats coach Sean Miller said. “It’s not easy to do that, but the quickness of those two big guys is very impressive.”
Gonzaga rolled up 54 points in the closing 20 minutes against a Wildcats defense that was giving up 58.2 per game.
Norvell couldn’t find the range in the first half, missing all eight of his shot attempts, including six behind the arc. Perkins hit a pair of 3-pointers but had two turnovers and zero assists.
By game’s end, Norvell had 20 points, three 3-pointers and a ferocious dunk after poking the ball away from a Wildcat. Perkins piled up 18 points and nine assists.
Gonzaga trailed 50-37 before flipping the switch. Norvell scored the last seven points in a 19-3 run that gave GU a 56-53 lead. The Wildcats went back on top 61-60 on one of Justin Coleman’s six 3-pointers, but Perkins assisted on a Clarke layup and a Norvell 3, giving Gonzaga the lead for good.
Perkins’ and Norvell’s consecutive 3s expanded the margin to 79-67.
“Those are shots (in the first half) that we usually make,” Perkins said. “Shooters shoot, that’s what we say. And a guy like ‘Snacks’ (Norvell’s nickname), never lets his confidence waver.”
Hachimura scored a team-high 24 points. Clarke added 18 points and four blocked shots.
Coleman struck for 28 points, Brandon Randolph had 19 and Brandon Williams added 15, but Arizona finished with just three assists. The Wildcats scored only 29 points in the second half.
“We got tested and pushed to the brink, and we didn’t break,” Few said. “That’s a great sign moving forward.”
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